Jean R. AbiNader
January 31, 2020
Throughout Africa and the Middle East, it is a constant struggle to strengthen employment and business opportunities for underserved populations such as women and youth. Despite making up more than 50% of the country, women and youth have traditionally had a smaller share of the country’s productive economy, have lower wages, and face more obstacles in obtaining financing for start-ups and growing their businesses.
Incrementally, that is changing as governments rely more and more on the private sector to drive badly needed job creation. Governments have a key role to play in ensuring a proactive ecosystem that enables SMEs (small and medium-sized enterprises) to survive, grow, and flourish. As this is a global challenge, the World Bank has been monitoring the performance of governments in terms of their regulatory environments regarding women’s economic participation.
According to its latest Women, Business, and the Law 2020, Morocco is first among MENA countries on eight indicators that measure how government regulations affect women throughout the various stages of a career. Using data from the national economy, the Index focuses on mobility, starting a job, pay, marriage, parenthood, entrepreneurship, managing assets, and access to pensions. Morocco made the top score of 100 points on Mobility, Workplace, and Entrepreneurship, meaning that no legal constraints exist in these areas, according to the world financial institution.
Morocco has just unveiled a new program to support financing for SMEs in response to an address by King Mohammed VI in October for the financial sector to be more involved in the country’s development. The king recently called a meeting of the country’s top labor, finance, and economic leaders to discuss how the commercial banks would ease access to financing for SMEs. They announced details of a program as to how this would apply to SMEs. Called the “Integrated Program to Support and Finance Enterprises,” it hopes to simplify and facilitate access to loans in both urban and rural areas for youth, micro, and small enterprises.
A joint fund set up by the government and banking sector will focus on youth and SMEs active in exports, and promote greater professional development of the informal workforce. The goal is to create some 27,000 new jobs and 13,500 companies in the next three years. The agricultural sector and projects in rural areas will have a separate program providing for unlimited refinancing of existing credits. Overall, equity capital requirements will be reduced on loans to the targeted beneficiaries.
In addition, Othman Benjelloun, president of the Bankers Association, noted that its members would provide up to $3 million with the government and Central Bank for a new “Fund of Entrepreneurship Financing Support” that would “provide young project holders and small and medium enterprises with all the support and time they need, in terms of proximity, assistance for structuring, training, and consultancy, in all economic sectors and across the Kingdom.” Banks committed to a response time of no more than three weeks.
A related story in The North Africa Post indicated that “the banking sector has capped the interest rate [for SMEs in the program] at 2%,” and 1.75% in rural areas due to increased risk from “constriction of the market, sensitivity to climatic fluctuations, and variations of prices for agricultural products.” The Hassan II Fund, which supports the kingdom’s economic development, will contribute $2 million without interest to the fund in order to give more preferential rates in rural areas. The Central Bank Governor Abdellatif Jouahri added that loans to small and medium-sized enterprises will be refinanced at 1.25%.
Despite the expectation that citrus production will fall by 31% in the current year, Morocco still maintained its ranking among the top 3 countries on the African continent in terms of agricultural regulation and reforms. The country continues to implement projects to regulate the distribution of water resources, support the agricultural sector through financial support, and technical support.
The World Bank (WB) in its “Enabling the Business of Agriculture” book states that “the country owes its position to the measures it has taken in terms of water resource management, pest control, the provision of seed sector players, and the necessary equipment. In addition to this, setting up storage structures adequate for national production to boost its production for the European, Asian, and American markets also played a part in pushing the kingdom into 3rd place.”
As Morocco tackles the twin issues of financing and upgrading the agricultural sector, there is a strong likelihood that its goal of building a strong rural middle class is achievable.